There's not one correct approach to eating at the Taste of Buffalo, but entering with at least a simple plan can make a difference when exploring the largest two-day food festival in the United States.
The iconic summer event runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 13 and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 14 in Niagara Square and north on Delaware Avenue. There's no cost to wander the festival, but food tickets are $1 apiece and can be purchased in sheets of five.
Pinpointing a few must-try items ahead of time will help pace your eating and aid in resisting the temptation of spending all your tickets on wine slushies. (That temptation is real, especially on a hot day).
For first timers, here are three key tips: Bring your own water bottle to avoid paying an extreme amount; know that bathrooms are stationed along the periphery, near all three beer tents and on the north sides of City Hall and New Era Cap; and pick up a site map when you buy food tickets.
Once you're set with those fundamentals, consider these 10 intriguing items from local restaurants. The foods are listed in order of their business's tent number to make them easier to find.
Steak hoagie from Buffalo Soul Catering
5 tickets, tent 2.
Why: Don't let the name deceive you: Buffalo Soul Catering is much more than a catering company. It's the Bailey Avenue restaurant's first foray into the Taste of Buffalo, and co-owner Jamey Alexander is eager to introduce their steak hoagie to a wider audience.
For its hoagie, Buffalo Soul takes an unusual approach by cooking steak in its special sauce rather than simply applying it on top, so the meat stays juicy and takes on some of the sauce's tangy, savory flavor. Tack on peppers, onions and two cheeses, and you've got a must-try.
Larkin Lager braised short ribs from Hilltop Restaurant & Bar
5 tickets, tent 3.
Why: Hilltop weaves Flying Bison Brewing Co.'s Larkin Lager into its chuck beef ribs. The short ribs are slowly braised in the brewery's Larkin Lager and topped with barbecue sauce and crispy onion straws.
The result is flavorful, fork-tender meat. Don't worry, the beer's presence will be subtle. At the restaurant, Hilltop typically uses Sam Adams for its braising but wanted a local touch for the festival.
Falafel rice bowl from Rachel's Mediterranean
3 tickets, tent 6.
Why: Rachel's is a household name in the Buffalo area, with its seventh location in the works. Owner Joseph Khoury rolls with a Taste of Buffalo menu that caters to eaters with dietary limitations. The falafel rice bowl is both vegan and gluten-free, can be ordered with brown or white rice and topped with a vegan tahini sauce.
For those with dietary freedom, the crispy falafel fritters and rice can be smothered in tzatziki or dill, too. Don't expect to get full, but it's only three tickets and a healthy, flavorful few bites.
Peach and raspberry shortcake from Patina 250
4 tickets, tent 8.
Why: Bursts of fresh fruit and eye-catching color will help Patina 250's dessert stick out, as peaches and raspberries make a delightful couple. Toss in a buttermilk biscuit and whipped cream, and you've got a refreshing summer treat with layers of flavor and texture. We hope you'll have a friend that will point out the raspberry seed between your teeth.
Da Link from Mineo and Sapio Street Eats
4 tickets, tent 10.
Why: Not only will you sound cool by saying, "Give me Da Link, please," but the selection is more than just a catchy name. The Chicago-style sausage sandwich is served with caramelized onions and served with sweet honey mustard and more acidic giardiniera relish, a pairing that will jolt your taste buds to attention.
Another wise choice would be the chorizo po' boy, five tickets, which won Best Sandwich at last year's festival.
Chicken wing pizza from Pizza Amore
4 tickets, tent 17.
Why: You may have seen Pizza Amore as a truck at the Erie County Fair or spied it in the back of the Mobil gas station on Grand Island, but the Perri family has fine-tuned its thin, crispy wood-fired pizza and dubs its chicken wing version a "perfect representation of Buffalo."
The creamy-spicy-crunchy conglomerate is built with shredded chicken, Frank's RedHot, mozzarella and blue cheese. Please do not ask for ranch.
[Read more: Pizza and wings, Buffalo's perfect combo]
NOLA Beignets from SEAR Steakhouse
3 tickets, tent 20.
Why: Beignets from a fancy steakhouse at a food festival? Those aren't words you see together too often. The signature New Orleans dessert - a rich man's fried dough - is inspired by SEAR's pastry chef, Amanda Tornambe, who worked for four years in NOLA. Expect some authenticity in these desserts that are fried to order.
The dipping sauce sticks out, too. It is milk chocolate and chicory coffee together for a play off of coffee and doughnuts. Why settle for fried dough when beignets are available?
Risotto sticks from Osteria 166
4 tickets, tent 32.
Why: There's a lot going on in the nearby Franklin Street restaurant's sticks, and don't take the busy-ness for a lack of quality. Rice, sausage, cheese and banana peppers all dwell in the deep-fried stick, which can (should?) be dipped in the accompanying spicy cream sauce.
You can walk around and people-watch while eating these, a benefit not be overlooked. Just don't miss your mouth, as seagulls enjoy risotto sticks, too.
Fried pork wontons from Taste of Siam
4 tickets, tent 33.
Why: Another tip - don't just order pizza, wings and sausage and call it a day. Instead of spending $15 on a full meal, the Taste of Buffalo can be a bite-sized adventure. Taste of Siam's fried pork wontons could be the gateway snack for conservative eaters to dive headlong into Thai cuisine. For $4, that's a risk worth taking. Expect a crunchy, savory bite.
Honey-Creole wings from Dalmatia Hotel
4 tickets, tent 7.
Why: National Dive Bar Day was last week, and just because Dalmatia Hotel fits that moniker doesn't mean it can't fry a bird. Of the roughly 250 reviews on Dalmatia Hotel's Facebook page, more than 50% are love letters to the wings and their sauces. If you can tolerate a little stickiness, dig into the honey-Creole wings for an out-of-the-ordinary take on a Buffalo food staple.
Longtime personal favorites
Crabcake stuffed shrimp from Carmine's
5 tickets, tent 12.
Pastelillos from Niagara Cafe
3 tickets, tent 30.
Deep-friend PB&J from Stack Burger
4 or 2 tickets, tent 48.
Related: Look at 15 foods to try at 2018 Taste of Buffalo, many of which return this summer.
Have other dishes you're excited about? Email firstname.lastname@example.org